The Best Online Associate in Criminal Justice Programs

The interdisciplinary field of criminal justice encompasses a network of government programs and agencies designed to deter criminal activities, prosecute criminal offenders and maintain social order and public safety nationwide. The components of criminal justice include law and law enforcement, fire protection, emergency management, information security and ethics. Criminal justice is one of the most popular fields of academic study; a recent poll by USA Today noted that ‘criminal justice and corrections’ is the sixth most common college major among U.S. undergraduates.

An associate degree in criminal justice will prepare students to succeed in this exciting, often challenging field. The curriculum typically includes coursework in law and ethics, criminal investigation, corrections and probation, juvenile justice and homeland security. A large number of programs also require students to complete an internship course, in which they will receive supervised onsite training from experienced professionals. Many of today’s students are choosing to earn their associate degree in criminal justice online. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to the same number of job opportunities after graduation. The asynchronous (or self-paced) schedule and study-from-home format are also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other responsibilities that could possibly interfere with campus-based learning.

Learn more about what you can do with an online associate in criminal justice and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.


Online associate in criminal justice programs usually offer a broad overview of law and law enforcement, the justice system and principles of forensics and detection. This comprehensive curriculum will prepare students for different career paths, and also introduce them to realities of working for a bureaucratic government agency. Internships and other onsite trainings are also useful; these courses enable students to apply the skills and knowledge they have gained in a real-world work setting.


Associate online degrees in criminal justice offer a flexible alternative to traditional higher learning. Students can download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors from the comfort of their home computer. Current educational technology also allows them to study on the move using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other Wi-Fi-compatible devices. For added convenience, online criminal justice students will usually be able to coordinate internships at locations within a reasonable commuting distance of their current residence.


Job availability for criminal justice associate degree recipients will vary by their specific career goals. Many roles in law enforcement are attainable with an associate; however, these positions may require on-the-job training in firearm safety, CPR/first aid and other competency areas. Paralegals and legal assistants, on the other hand, are often hired with only an associate degree and certification is not normally required. Other professions in criminal justice include information security and cybersecurity specialists, forensic investigators and technicians, court reporters and probation officers.


Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online associate in criminal justice programs in the United States. If you are considering an online associate in criminal justice, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Pamlico Community College 72.30 1/5 85% Grantsboro, NC

Located in eastern North Carolina, in the town of Grantsboro, Pamlico Community College was founded in 1962. Today, the college offers a variety of academic and continuing education programs, including an online associate degree in criminal justice. The criminal justice technology program reflects Pamlico Community College's vision to provide high quality, accessible education and workforce training, and the curriculum prepares students to lead successful careers as police officers, parole officers, state troopers, and other law enforcement and corrections officers. The associate degree includes courses that focus on corrections procedures, criminal law, and community relations. Pamlico Community College offers distance learning accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Students enrolled in online courses have several online resources available to them, including online orientation.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
2 Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale 67.00 4/5 78% Fort Lauderdale, FL

Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Keiser University is a private, nonprofit school that offers individualized, quality education that emphasizes community service and employability. At Keiser University, every program is reviewed by an advisory board that consists of experts in the field, faculty, and alumni to ensure that curricula reflect the most up-to-date training in professional practices. The online criminal justice degree is part of the school's eCampus, a distance learning program that caters to each student's educational needs. The associate of arts degree in criminal justice is 60 credit hours and prepares students for successful careers in law enforcement. Courses cover theories of criminology and criminal law, as well as practical training in law enforcement procedures. The online courses are designed to promote the expression of diverse ideas through group discussions and to develop career-enhancing skills in law enforcement.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
3 Saint Leo University 63.20 3/5 86% Saint Leo, FL

Saint Leo University was founded in 1889 and has grown from a small Catholic school nestled in Central Florida, to a bustling higher education institution with over 16,000 students. Saint Leo University strives to meet the educational needs of students and provides several services, such as tutoring and writing workshops, to help students reach their goals. Students enrolled in online programs have access to a number of online resources designed to aid them in their distance education experience. The criminal justice online associate degree program prepares students for careers in law enforcement and related fields. Saint Leo University is one of the top military schools in the U.S. and has been providing criminal justice education for over 30 years. The criminal justice degree is 60 credit hours and focuses on key issues such as criminal investigation, the criminal justice system, and criminal justice ethics.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
4 Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion 60.80 4/5 88% Marion, IN

Located in Marion, Indiana, Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion is a Christian college founded in 1920 in the Wesleyan Church tradition of Christ-centered learning with the goal to positively impact the world through commitment to service. This is the largest private school in Indiana as well as the largest member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. At Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion, students are motivated to reach their goals, both personally through spiritual growth and professionally through academic achievement. The online programs offered by the university are designed with accessibility and affordability in mind, and students have online access to library resources, including journal articles and ebooks. The criminal justice associates degree online is 60 credit hours and emphasizes key issues such as Homeland Security and police procedures.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
5 Central Georgia Technical College 59.60 1/5 49% Warner Robins, GA

Located in the heart of Georgia, Central Georgia Technical College is part of the Technical College System of Georgia. Its central location in the city of Warner Robins makes this school one of the education system's primary campuses. With over 40 years experience as a provider in higher education and training programs, Central Georgia Technical College offers almost 200 programs that emphasize professional training for entry level careers from aerospace technology to the health sciences. The online criminal justice associate degree is one of its many competitive online training programs. Delivered through Blackboard, the criminal justice program is 60 credit hours and includes core coursework, such as language arts and humanities, and occupational courses. Occupational courses prepare students for careers in law enforcement and cover a wide range of topics including ethics and cultural perspectives in criminal justice, victimology, and emergency planning.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
6 Albany Technical College 59.30 1/5 59% Albany, GA

Albany Technical College is located in Albany, Georgia, the eighth largest city in the state. Since its humble beginnings as a vocational school with less than 200 students, Albany Technical College has provided quality education and training to career-focused individuals seeking the skills necessary for employment as well as personal growth. Today, over 3,000 full-time students and 2,500 part-time students attend Albany Technical College. The online associate degree in criminal justice is one of the 30 fully online programs available. Course delivery is through Blackboard, and students have access to a number of helpful online resources as well as technological assistance. The criminal justice degree emphasizes law enforcement technology and is 60 credit hours. The online program is comprised of theoretical knowledge and practical skills training to prepare students for successful careers as police officers, corrections officers, security guards, and more.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
7 Southern New Hampshire University 58.30 5/5 95% Manchester, NH

Located in Manchester, New Hampshire, Southern New Hampshire University has been a leading name in educational excellence since it was founded in 1932. The college is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and its educational programs emphasize innovation and accessibility. The distance learning program has more than 60,000 online students and offers over 200 degrees fully online. SNHU's online associate degree programs are 60 credit hours, and courses transfer to four-year programs. The online associate degree in criminal justice allows students to conveniently pursue their career interests and paves the way for a variety of employment prospects, including law enforcement, private security, and court administration. The program offers classes that train students in criminal justice theory and practice. Examples of program courses include criminal law, judicial administration, and criminal justice research methods.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
8 Chaminade University of Honolulu 58.20 3/5 54% Honolulu, HI

Chaminade University of Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The university is situated in the Kaimuki district of Honolulu. The university's values are rooted in the Catholic tradition. The school values its critical role in the lives of students and has commitments to service and community growth and cohesion. The online programs offered by Chaminade University are taught by highly qualified faculty with expertise in their fields as well as teaching through technology. The online associate degree in criminal justice is 60 credit hours and provides the foundation for a successful career in law enforcement. Focal areas of the degree include the criminal justice system, issues of race and gender in crime, criminal justice research, and crime scene investigation.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
9 Oconee Fall Line Technical College 55.30 1/5 55% Sandersville, GA

Located in Sandersville, Georgia, Oconee Fall Line Technical College guarantees that its students receive the education and training necessary for successful careers, and if graduates find that the standard skills acquired in an Oconee Fall Line program fall short of any industry-specific task, the college will provide further training for free. Distance education is an important part of Oconee Fall Line Technical College, and the school provides high quality educational programs taught by faculty experienced in online training and skills development. The online criminal justice degree is taught through the Georgia Virtual Technical Connection, which is a component of Georgia's technical colleges. The associate degree in criminal justice is 60 credit hours and emphasizes training in key areas of law enforcement technology, including law enforcement theories, constitutional law, and criminal procedures.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
10 Hodges University 55.00 3/5 47% Naples, FL

Located in Naples, Florida, Hodges University was founded in 1990 with the goal of providing quality education that emphasizes inclusion, integrity, respect, and transformational learning. To help achieve this goal, Hodges University's Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Cultural Competency offers workshops and faculty training to help academic leaders develop curricula that reflect the university's core values. Hodges University's online programs provide students with the opportunity to gain valuable skills and knowledge to jumpstart their careers while also building a knowledge foundation that is easily transferred to a four-year degree program. The criminal justice degree online is a 60 hour program, and full-time students can complete the Associate of Science program in less than 2 years. Courses prepare students for careers in law enforcement and focus on modern criminal justice issues and criminology.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
11 Odessa College 54.70 1/5 39% Odessa, TX

Odessa College is located in Odessa, Texas, and offers over 120 associate degree programs. At Odessa College, student success is key to the mission of the school. Educational programs are designed to reflect the college's values of lifelong learning, community engagement, and high quality professional training. Odessa College's online programs are delivered through OC Global in conjunction with the school's Learning Resources Center, where students will find online research guides, helpful websites, and much more. Odessa College values its distance learners' time and offers an associate degree in criminal justice online that features easily accessible course content and flexible curriculum. The program is 45 credit hours and consists of general education and major requirements. Students gain vital skills that prepare them for careers in law enforcement. Examples of classes include court systems, probation and parole, and ethics in criminal justice.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
12 Fox Valley Technical College 53.80 2/5 56% Appleton, WI

Fox Valley Technical College is located Appleton, a thriving community of 60,000 residents nestled in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin. Fox Valley Technical College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and strives to provide educational programs that prepare students to engage in careers and community service with confidence. The college values integrity, diversity, and innovation and seeks to incorporate these values in its program curriculum. The distance learning program is driven by cutting-edge technology, and courses are customizable to meet the individual needs of students with busy schedules. Students interested in the associate degree in criminal justice online will find that the program prepares graduates for a number of rewarding careers in law enforcement, including police officer, deputy sheriff, corrections officer, and public safety dispatcher. The program is 63 credit hours and offers a variety of courses designed to link criminal justice theory to practice.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
13 Stanly Community College 52.80 2/5 43% Albemarle, NC

Located in Albemarle, North Carolina, Stanly Community College is part of the North Carolina Community College System and was established in 1971. The school filled an important educational niche in the community and blossomed from 31 students to nearly 400 in just five months. Since then, Stanly Community College has developed into a multifaceted learning community serving 10,000 students annually. Educational and training programs offered at Stanly Community College reflect the school's mission to provide students with the tools necessary for personal and professional growth. The distance education programs are designed to promote student access and degree completion. The criminal justice associates degree online prepares graduates for careers in law enforcement and related fields. The criminal justice program emphasizes training in the procedures of the criminal justice system, criminology, community relations, and the constitution and the law.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
14 Eastern Kentucky University 51.50 2/5 55% Richmond, KY

Located in Richmond, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University has, at its foundation, the core values of scholarly inquiry, critical thinking, and cultural competency. These values guide the college's curriculum and shape its community of support. Eastern Kentucky University strives for academic excellence, and the personal and professional growth of each student is critical to the mission of the university. Its online programs are flexible, and course content is easily accessible through Blackboard. Online students have access to several resources online, including library materials. The university prepares its educators to effectively teach in the online learning environment, and faculty frequently participate in online course development training. The online criminal justice degree is one of the many high quality programs offered by Eastern Kentucky University. The associate degree in police studies is 60 credit hours and prepares students for careers in law enforcement. The program's curriculum focuses on modern criminal justice issues and policing strategies.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
15 University of Maine at Fort Kent 49.70 2/5 58% Fort Kent, ME

The University of Maine at Fort Kent is located along the U.S.-Canada border in the Saint John Valley, which is comprised of Northern Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick. The school prides itself in providing a world class education in a rural setting, complete with technologically advanced learning environments and exhilarating outdoor experiences. Distance education is held to the same rigorous standards as its face-to-face programs. Students have the opportunity to develop individualized programs of study and have access to several online resources, including the online course information sheet that prepares students for a virtual education. The associate degree in criminal justice online is a 2-year program and prepares students for careers in law enforcement, such as police officers, state troopers, deputy sheriffs, and game wardens. Students gain valuable skills in principles of investigation and forensic science.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
16 Haywood Community College 49.20 2/5 38% Clyde, NC

Haywood Community College is located in Clyde, North Carolina, and is the only higher education institution in Haywood county. Haywood Community College was founded in 1965 and is a unit of the North Carolina Community College System. The school boasts a unique campus, complete with a nursing lab with robotic patients, a greenhouse, and automotive facilities. Haywood Community College's online programs are designed to instill lifelong learning and to promote highly effective workforce training leading to employment. The online criminal justice associate degree is 72 hours and provides students with knowledge about local, state, and federal criminal justice theories and practices. Students will gain skills in law enforcement procedures, court procedures, investigative principles, and much more. Upon graduation, students will be prepared for a variety of careers in law enforcement, such as police officers, corrections officers, and state troopers.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
17 Southeastern Technical College 49.10 1/5 45% Vidalia, GA

Southeastern Technical College is located in Vidalia, Georgia, and was founded in 1963 with four programs and 32 students. Since then, the college has grown to offer over 80 programs and continues to serve its community through adult education programs and community partnerships that encourage employment and economic stimulation. The online degree programs embody the school's mission to provide quality education that emphasizes global competition and employability in the modern workforce. The online associate degree in criminal justice at Southeastern Technical College is 63 credit hours and focuses on criminal justice theory and its implications on 21st century law enforcement. Occupational courses prepare students for careers in the criminal justice field. Topics such as criminal procedure, corrections, and juvenile justice are covered in the program.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
18 Northeast Community College 47.40 2/5 59% Norfolk, NE

Located in Norfolk, Nebraska, Northeast Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and strives to serve as a center for educational excellence. In 1973, Northeastern Nebraska College and Northeast Nebraska Technical College joined forces to create an alliance emphasizing high quality vocational training in over 80 programs. The community college offers several programs online taught by experienced faculty, and students have access to an online advisor was well as online resources and support. The criminal justice degree online is geared toward motivated individuals seeking employment in public safety. The associate of arts degree is 60 credit hours and prepares students for careers as police officers, corrections officers, parole officers, and other law enforcement related areas. Courses focus on criminal investigations and procedures, including crime scene investigation and criminal law.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
19 Westmoreland County Community College 47.10 1/5 33% Youngwood, PA

At Westmoreland County Community College -- located in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, and founded in 1970 -- students will find an academic environment that promotes diversity, collaboration, and social responsibility. The college's mission is to provide students with abundant opportunities to pursue career interests and to enhance the workforce with highly trained graduates. Westmoreland County Community College offers several competitive degrees fully online, including the associate degree in criminal justice online. Online learning is delivered through Blackboard, and students participate in rich learning experiences designed to facilitate discussions and critical thinking. The criminal justice degree prepares students for entry-level careers in law enforcement, and the curriculum can often be transferred to four-year degree programs. The program focuses on criminal justice laws and procedures and law enforcement theories and practices.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
20 Lanier Technical College 46.50 2/5 46% Oakwood, GA

Lanier Technical College is part of the Technical College System of Georgia, and is located in Oakwood, a community of roughly 3,000 residents in Northeast Georgia. Offering training programs that emphasize career advancement and economic success, the college is community-oriented and advocates for all students by breaking down economic barriers to education through the provision of grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Distance education is designed to help students achieve their educational goals anytime and anywhere. The criminal justice online associate degree program is 60 credit hours, and its flexible online classes are delivered through Blackboard. Students enrolled in the criminal justice technology degree program gain critical skills to help prepare them for rewarding careers in law enforcement. The program focuses on linking theory to practice, and students are required to complete 30 hours of criminal justice-specific coursework.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
21 Forsyth Technical Community College 46.20 1/5 31% Winston Salem, NC

Located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Forsyth Technical Community College was founded in 1960 and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The college celebrated its 50th anniversary during the 2010-2011 school year, and a list of 50 Forsyth Tech facts was created in the school's honor. Forsyth Tech recognizes that many students require flexible routes to education, and the online degree programs reflect its mission to provide quality education that meets the needs of students by offering easily accessible courses with the flexibility of an asynchronous learning environment. The online associate degree in criminal justice is taught by faculty with criminal justice experience, and the program requires a 16-week internship that is completed at the online student's location.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
22 Lansing Community College 45.20 2/5 34% Lansing, MI

Located in Lansing, Michigan, Lansing Community College was founded in 1957 as a response to the city's demand for a highly-skilled, industrious workforce. The college has strong ties with businesses and government entities which allow the college to stay abreast of current social and economic trends that propel industries into the continually globalized future. Lansing Community College's eLearning Department is designed to accommodate the needs of students in all walks of life. The online learning programs are led by faculty with extensive training in online teaching methods, and online students are supported every step of the way in their journey toward degree attainment. Lansing Community College offers a competitive online criminal justice associate degree program designed for students who wish to transfer to a four-year degree program. The associate's degree is 60 credit hours and covers topics including crime causes, criminal law, and theory of patrol.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
23 Northampton County Area Community College 44.30 1/5 41% Bethlehem, PA

Located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Northampton Community College values student success, which is evident in its graduate employment rate, with 90% of students becoming employed within one year of graduating. The college was founded in 1967, and since then has served as an educational hub for Northampton County and the surrounding area. Northampton Community College is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and offers online learning options for students in need of flexible and easily accessible programs. Students enrolled in the criminal justice degree online will earn a 63 credit-hour Associate of Applied Science degree. The criminal justice program is one of Northampton Community College's most popular degrees, and it prepares students for careers in law enforcement and related professions. The program emphasizes theories in criminology, criminal justice procedures, and constitutional law.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
24 Surry Community College 41.70 2/5 46% Dobson, NC

Surry Community College has been providing quality education since 1964. Located in Dobson, North Carolina, Surry Community College offers 48 areas of study and emphasizes a collaborative learning environment where students can engage in diverse learning experiences led by supportive and engaging faculty. Twenty percent of students are enrolled in fully online courses, and the online programs are rooted in school's mission to provide research-based educational programs that prepare students to enter careers with confidence and knowledge reflecting 21st century practices. The online criminal justice associate degree is 65 credit hours and provides students with criminal law and procedural training within the context of modern society. Ethical issues are explored along with race relations and other pertinent topics.

Tweet this Share this School Profile
25 Truckee Meadows Community College 39.80 2/5 37% Reno, NV

Located in Reno, Nevada, Truckee Meadows Community College specializes in life-changing education. The college emphasizes educational training that engenders a love for lifelong learning, and Truckee Meadows Community College strives to promote learning environments that are diverse in thought and allow for creativity and innovation. The college utilizes evidence-based approaches to assess student progress and guide curriculum. The online programs are part of the school's WebCollege program, and online classes facilitate degree attainment by providing accessible and flexible approaches to learning. The online criminal justice associate degree is designed for students with career aspirations in law enforcement and related areas. Upon completion of the 60 credit-hour degree program, students will have a strong working knowledge of criminal justice laws and procedures, crime scene investigation, and criminal trial processes.

Tweet this Share this School Profile

Some online criminal justice associate degree programs allow students to develop a concentration in a specialized area. While course and curriculum details tend to differ between schools, there are several educational tracks commonly offered through criminal justice programs across the United States. Most are designed to prepare students for specific careers while others are tailored to prepare learners for further education.


Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Corrections This concentration focuses on the role of the correctional system in relation to the criminal justice system as a whole. Coursework covers topics such as incarceration, probation, and parole, along with courtroom procedures and recent innovations in crime prevention and personal security. Corrections Officer; Corrections Dispatcher; Parole Officer
Law enforcement Coursework focuses on criminal law and procedures, investigations, and constitutional law. Students learn the fundamentals of criminology, and how these concepts can be applied in the community to prevent crime. Curricula may address topics related to homeland security, cybercrime, and forensic detection. Some programs may include a weapons training component. Law Enforcement Officer; Security Officer; Loss Prevention Expert; Statistic Researcher in criminal justice fields
Forensic science Students on a forensic science track gain the knowledge necessary to assess and process crime scenes. In addition to courses like crime scene photography and accident investigation, students learn the basic scientific skills required to succeed in a forensic laboratory setting. Students may be expected to complete an internship or work-study program. Forensic Science Technician; Crime Scene Investigator/Photographer; Records Officer


Although course selections vary from school to school, some subjects are integral to the study of criminal justice. Variations on the following courses are frequently offered by online criminal justice associate degree programs.

  • Quantitative methods in criminal justice: This course provides an overview of common methods used by criminologists to research the causes and distribution of crime. Lectures cover primary methods of data acquisition and analysis, as well as challenges introduced by social relations and economic factors.
  • Criminological theory: Designed to provide students with a broad foundation in the integral concepts of criminology, this course describes the various schools of thought that have contributed to modern criminological theory. Topics covered in this course are crucial for anyone pursuing a career in law enforcement or forensic science.
  • Criminal justice ethics: A must for future law enforcement officers, students can expect to learn the code of ethics that defines the behavior of all police professionals. Coursework details ethical methods of problem solving and conflict resolution, stressing the importance of honor and integrity in the field.


While it takes most learners around two years to complete their criminal justice associate degree online, several factors can affect program length and completion time. Many schools provide the option of studying part-time, for example, which may extend the duration of a course or program. However, the biggest factor influencing degree length is program pacing.

Featuring accelerated courses and lenient deadlines, self-paced, or asynchronous programs allow students to study and complete assignments without requiring their online presence at specific times. Ideal for busy individuals, self-paced courses can be completed quickly. Online criminal justice associate degree students in cohort programs begin and end classes with the same group of people. Students may be expected to log on at designated times, and deadlines are typically stricter. Assignments and projects often require collaboration between group members. Following a precise schedule, cohort programs often take more time to complete.

Not all criminal justice online associate degree programs are created equal. To ensure that you receive the highest quality education possible, it’s important to seek programs from accredited schools. The accreditation process ensures that a school is operating according to standards set by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Institutions may be regionally or nationally accredited, depending on the body evaluating them. Regional accreditation is generally applied to nonprofit, academically oriented colleges, while for-profit vocational schools are often nationally accredited.

For students who are interested in entering a bachelor’s program after earning their criminal justice associate degree online, finding a regionally accredited school is crucial. While nationally accredited schools will accept credits from regionally accredited ones, the opposite is generally not true. Most graduate programs follow similar practices. A degree from a regionally accredited institution provides many more opportunities for further education than its national counterpart.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get a quality associate degree in criminal justice online from a nationally accredited institution. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes all accredited schools as legitimate. While the DOE doesn’t accredit institutions, it reviews accrediting agencies to ensure that they meet federal standards. All agencies are monitored by the DOE, and undergo review periodically. CHEA also oversees accrediting organizations from a non-governmental perspective, and provides the public with information about accreditation’s role in protecting students. You can find a list of accredited institutions on the DOE’s website, or search for schools on CHEA’s extensive database.

Job Placement: Associate in Criminal Justice

The demand for qualified professionals is quite high in law and law enforcement, emergency management, homeland security and other criminal justice-related fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that most legal occupations for associate degree-holders — including police officers and detectives, paralegals, legal assistants, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists — will grow by 4% to 8% between 2014 and 2024. This industry growth will result in thousands of new jobs. Additionally, jobs in the cutting-edge field of forensics are also on the rise. The number of forensic science technicians, for example, is expected to increase 27% over the next decade.

Unemployment rates in criminal justice are linked to areas of specialization. The following table features five criminal justice professions that were included in the ‘Best Jobs‘ ranking published by U.S. News & World Report in 2016.

Profession Unemployment Rate
Patrol Officer 1.0%
Lawyer 1.1%
Paralegal 2.8%
Information Security Analyst 3.9%
Security Guard 8.0%

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Generally speaking, most jobs in law and law enforcement, information security and other criminal justice fields have unemployment rates lower than 4.0%. Comparatively, the national unemployment rate for all occupations currently sits at 4.7%.

Earning a Living

According to the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, students who earn an associate degree in criminal justice earn median annual salaries of $31,100 during the first five years of their career and $46,000 after a decade on the job. This represents a 10-year growth rate of nearly 48%. The report also found that those with an associate in criminal justice administration earn median salaries of $36,800 and $50,200 at the five- and 10-year marks, respectively.

How do these two fields stack up against other areas of study in terms of earning potential for new graduates? The table below features projected earnings for six related academic fields.

Associate Degree Field of Study Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)
Fire Science $34,700 $56,600
Legal Studies $32,300 $51,300
Criminal Justice Administration $36,800 $50,200
Law Enforcement $34,000 $50,200
Legal Assistant Studies $33,400 $46,300
Criminal Justice $31,100 $46,000

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

Another important consideration for criminal justice degree-holders is specific job title. Salary expectations will strongly vary between different positions; other potential factors include employer size, certification level, experience and city/state of employment. The next table looks at salary projections for five of the most common occupations in criminal justice.

Occupation Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Police Officers $43,146 $51,046 $55,662 $61,218
Police Detectives $50,000 $52,000 $63,000 $69,000
Probation Officers $35,057 $39,926 $45,742 $58,590
Paralegals $38,734 $46,626 $51,154 $53,194
Forensic Scientist $47,000 $59,000 $63,000 $69,000

Source: PayScale

All five occupations listed in the table experience salary growth of at least 37% after 20 years in the workforce. Probation officers reported the highest growth rate: a 67.1% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career phases. Forensic scientists placed second with a 20-year growth rate of 46.8%, followed by police officers with 41.9% growth.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with an associate in criminal justice will be qualified for dozens of entry-level positions, although individual eligibility will also depend on their areas of specialization. Four of the most popular careers in criminal justice are outlined below.

Police and Detectives: Police officers and detectives safeguard public safety. Officers are primarily responsible for protecting human lives, property and natural resources through active patrolling and law enforcement practices. Detectives are mid- to top-level law enforcement officials who investigate different crimes and, in many cases, arrest the perpetrators. These professionals also collect evidence, interview people linked to crimes that have been committed, write police reports and testify during trials and other criminal proceedings.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants: Paralegals and legal assistants provide supportive services for practicing attorneys. Their day-to-day duties include researching case studies, composing legal documents, formally requesting affidavits and other legal forms, preparing lawyers for court appearances and organizing client records.

Forensic Science Technicians: Forensic science technicians collect material evidence at crime scenes, and then perform a series of tests and analyses on each piece of evidence to help investigators apprehend guilty parties. Their time is neatly divided between crime scenes and laboratories, and they must be skilled at using different lab tools and equipment.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work directly with probationers, or individuals who have been convicted of criminal offenses. They monitor their clients to ensure they do not reoffend, and may also meet with them to discuss employment opportunities and rehabilitation programs.

Profession Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)
Police and Detectives $60,270 4% (33,100 jobs)
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $48,810 8% (21,200 jobs)
Forensic Science Technicians $56,320 27% (3,800 jobs)
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $49,360 4% (3,300 jobs)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to criminal justice is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for criminal justice professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

  • National Association of Police Organizations: NAPO was founded in 1978, and today represents roughly 241,000 officers and detectives in more than 1,000 law enforcement units. Members receive invitations to three annual conferences, as well as continuing education opportunities.
  • National Association of Legal Assistants: NALA is a nonprofit organization representing more than 18,000 paralegals, both individual members and employees of member affiliates. The association offers two certifications for paralegals, as well as online webinars, job leads and complimentary issues of the Facts & Findings academic journal.
  • American Probation and Parole Association: APPA represents probation and parole personnel working with criminals and juvenile offenders. The organization’s website features an extensive online resource library, as well as links to online and onsite training programs.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.


Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.